Alice Springs, already dubbed Australia’s “solar centre”, will be able to significantly lift its share of solar in its local grid after a tender for a 5MW battery storage array was awarded to New Zealand utility Vector.
The installation will likely be the biggest in Australia – at least until it is overtaken by one of the Victoria and South Australia tenders currently in progress – and will see Vector use LG Chem batteries, Siemens inverters and Yokogawa control systems.
The tender was first launched last November in response to some of the grid management issues that Territory Generation was experiencing in Alice Springs, which has the highest solar penetration in the country with 12MW of rooftop and ground mounted solar in a grid with an average load of 25MW, and a minimum load of 13MW.
“This is a really good news story for the people of Alice Springs,” Territory Generation CEO Tim Duignan told RenewEconomy.
“The intermittency of solar has been hard to manage because it has risen to 40 per cent penetration against average demand, and we were starting to struggle with the stability of the system. Now, with this battery storage, bring on the next 20, 30, 40 per cent.”
The battery array – 5MW with 40 minutes of storage – is designed to cover the variability of solar generation, particularly as clouds pass over the solar arrays, which include the 4.1MW Uterne solar farm and around 8MW on the rooftops of Alice Springs homes and businesses.
That will mean a significant reduction in the amount of gas burned for electricity, and will mean significantly less “spinning reserve” is needed. That, Duignan says, will also mean a big reduction in Co2 emissions.
Duignan says there will be a payback for the $8.3 million investment in just four years from the fuel savings and the reduced maintenance costs of the gas generators, which are being upgraded from the 48-year-old gas/diesel generators at Ron Goodin similar to those once used in ships, to modern units at the Owen Springs power station.
Duignan says when battery prices come down further, more will be added to further extend solar penetration, including time shifting, meaning that renewables will “take control of the grid.”
The then conservative government had argued that any more than 20 per cent solar penetration was not tenable. The local solar specialist CAT Projects said 60 per cent was entirely feasible with proper management.
And now, possibly coinciding with a new government that aims for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, the polemics have changed.
“There is significant expectation from industry, business and the community in Alice Springs to increase solar penetration on the grid, however without storage to smooth the solar output, there is limited opportunity to integrate further solar without impacting on grid stability,” Duignan said in an earlier statement.
“Reliability of base-load power is a major issue in Australia at the moment and these new technologies are an important step to ensuring reliability in a controlled transition to renewables.
“Vector Energy’s comprehensive solution will integrate into our existing system and is one of the reasons we have chosen them. Ultimately it will assist in supporting the system to be able to increase the solar profile in Alice Springs.
“The system to be installed has the ability to augment the storage capacity with further batteries in the future, which is a game changer for the energy generation industry in the NT.”
Duignan and the local MP, Dale Wakefield, said more systems were likely to be installed elsewhere in the territory.
“The technology being deployed by Territory Generation is cutting edge and we hope it heralds what could represent similar solutions in other areas of the Territory,” Wakefield said.
“Although this system is primarily aimed at making the existing system more efficient and reliable, it is the same technology that will allow future renewables growth.”
The $8.3 million system is expected to be fully installed by the end of the year.
Update: In a later release, Vector CEO Simon Mackenzie said this contract further endorsed Vector’s strategy and commitment to delivering customers world class sustainable energy solutions.
“It’s not just the technology Vector’s using that is innovative, it is the way we’re tailoring the solutions to meet quite specific and widely varied customer needs that is the game changer.
“It’s our mindset that is proving as innovative as the technology we’re using to meet the unique challenges and aspirations of the Alice Springs network.
“When we complete this contract, Vector will have delivered the two largest grid-tied battery storage projects in Australasia. It’s a great endorsement of our expertise.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.